Email notifications are short and to the point, yet they have a huge responsibility to engage users. Notifications are used for things like delivering transactional information, changes made to accounts, and workflow tool requests. While newsletters and marketing campaigns typically leave more room for fun design concepts, notifications don’t have to take a backseat just because they’re limited in content.
There’s two common ways to build an email—through drag-and-drop template builders, and fully custom templates built by developers. Selecting the best email notification template as a guide and using certain design techniques will help you on your quest to engage users.
The colors you use and the placement of the calls to action, images, and messaging can have an interesting effect on user engagement. Every company has a unique user base, and email notification templates that work for some companies might not work for others.
But there are lessons to be learned from the success of others, and running A/B tests on different designs will provide insight into what works best for your users. While a successful design is subjective, most email notification templates will have a few key elements.
Notifications are not newsletters, so keep messaging succinct—a few sentences should do. As we’ve discussed in a previous article, people respond best to personalized messages, so a meaningful, short, personalized message is a good place to start.
The design aspect of messaging will be where the messages fit in the email. While there might be some instances of successful messaging below the fold, typically, the message is the first thing a user should see in a notification. This way, they can make an informed decision about any calls to action the notification is asking them to take.
Emails with a single call to action generally receive higher engagement rates, so include only one if possible. If more than one CTA is needed, limit using the button style to the most important action so it stands out and include any other actions as plain text links below the main CTA.
Most people have likely heard the stat that says 65% of people are visual learners (which has a funny history and could quite possibly not be true), but regardless of the exact percentage, it’s no mystery that images are both fun to look at and can be effective in getting a user’s attention. While images can spice up an email, it’s important to use images sparingly to make sure your emails don’t end up in a spam folder.
This notification email from chocolate company Love Cocoa has incorporated a fun image followed by a bold message letting the user know they’ve gained “Cocoa Beans”—a loyalty program.
There is a brief message above the CTA intended to explain the exact reason they’ve received points, as well as an indication they can receive even more points with follow-up actions. There is a single CTA inviting the user to find out how they can earn more points. While it’s a simple design, it’s fun and gets right to the point.
There’s no magic email notification template that will solve your problems, but starting with a good template and doing A/B tests will give you insight into your users’ habits. Maybe run an A/B test pitting your copywriter against your graphic designer to see if messaging or imagery gets the most engagement. Play around with first-person and third-person messaging and CTAs. If a CTA is using a widely used brand color, swap it out with a lesser-used brand color and see if users respond differently.
Regardless of any template you may choose, it’s important to A/B test to find out how to tweak the template to make it work for you as best as it can.
The Internet has come a long way since the Space Jam website made its debut in 1996. I promise I’m going somewhere with this 😉. If you have developer mode on in your browser and you inspect the site, you can see the whole thing is made with HTML tables, exactly like an email template. The difference is browsers have moved past tables and into the world of complex motion, interactivity, and animation. Email has not. Email is still stuck with tables. But not to fret, there are still ways to liven up an email.
Incorporating movement in emails can be achieved with the use of GIFs. Though widely supported, not all email clients support GIFs, meaning they could fail to play for some recipients, showing a still image of one of the first few frames. This is why it’s important to get your message across in the first few frames. If your GIF shows nothing but a color block while text slowly animates in, recipients checking your email in clients that don’t support GIFs will only ever see that color block—the message is totally lost on them.
Something as simple as a color-change hover effect on a CTA is not widely supported in email clients, but it’s quick to implement, so it might be worth including to boost the fun for the email clients that do support hover effects. Drag-and-drop email template editors will likely have a button to switch to a code editor to incorporate some custom code like the CSS needed to achieve a simple hover effect. Partnering with a front-end dev to incorporate this into your email notification template would enhance the user experience for some recipients.
Whether or not you’ve chosen the perfect email notification template or design, notifications are only effective if they make it to a user’s inbox and if the user chooses to open them. Whether you’re delivering through an in-house system or with a full delivery service, it’s good to know how things like sender and spam ratings can derail your message from reaching a user.
Sender ratings are incredibly important when delivering emails to customers. Your sender rating, more formally known as email sender reputation, comes from the rating an Internet service provider gives you. When your rating falls too low, the ISP may direct your email notifications to the spam folder.
Some things that contribute to lower ratings are the amount of emails you send, if users are marking your emails as spam, and if users are consistently unsubscribing from your mailing list. Things that positively contribute to your rating are the open and click-through rates. Getting users to engage with your notifications is incredibly important to keep them in the correct inbox.
You can check your sender rating on a variety of websites like Sender Score or use a full-service delivery system like SendGrid that works with you to improve and maintain ratings.
ISPs, sender ratings, and the limitations of email design can be frustrating to deal with. While emails have some workarounds for their limitations, email has in no way stayed on track with the rest of the evolving Internet. Emails will either have to evolve to keep up or accept their fate as an arcane form of notifications, marketing, and newsletters. Luckily, other types of notifications have popped up (literally) and have proven to be an effective way to engage with users.
An email notification needs to make it to the right inbox at the right time to ensure it gets seen and a user can act on it. And that’s if they decide to open it at all. While emails still serve a valid purpose in our daily communication, when a notification needs immediate action or is time-sensitive, emails are not the best way to get someone’s attention.
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